Do plants have stem cells?

07 March 2017

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Question

Do plants have stem cells?

Answer

Biologist Aimee Eckhart, from the University of Sussex, took on Hong's question...

Aimee - Stem cells are what scientist call - because scientists like big words - undifferentiated cells. And what that means is the cell has the capability to turn into any other type of cell in the body or the organism such as a plant. So, for example, in us we've got heart cells, we’ve got brain cells, stomach cells, skin cells, but they all started life as stem cells.

A nice metaphor I like to think about is: stem cells are a little bit like children, their future is stretched out before them and they have the capability to become whatever career, whatever job they want, and depending on the environment that child is placed in and what education it’s given, then that determines its future.

So stem cells are like children and once they’ve become more specialised, once you choose your job such as a physicist or a radio presenter, it’s much more difficult to break out of that and become something else.

Plants do have stem cells because - and this is important for plants because plants or not like us or animals where they can run away or move away from danger. So if they get eaten or damaged by bad weather they need to be able to regenerate themselves, of course. So yes, in areas of the plants where growth takes place, so shoots and roots, there are stem cells.

Chris - I think they go by the name merry stems don’t they?

Aimee - Yes. That’s the region of the plant tissue where the stem cells are found - yes.

Chris - Good job we have them because Anna was telling us earlier she’s gone vegan and you’d be very hungry if it wasn’t for stem cells growing lots of plants for you to eat.

Anna - That’s absolutely right.

Chris - David?

David - Well if plants didn’t have stem cells wouldn’t they be floppy all over?

Aimee - Well, yes.    

David - Boom boom!

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